In This Article Evil Eye

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Ancient Near East
  • Rabbinic Literature
  • Early Christian Literature
  • Islamic Tradition
  • Biblical Reception

Biblical Studies Evil Eye
by
Nicole Tilford
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0112

Introduction

People throughout the world have believed that “certain individuals, animals, demons, or gods had the power of casting a spell or causing some damaging effect upon every object, animate or inanimate, upon which their glance fell” (John Elliot‘s “The Evil Eye in the First Testament: The Ecology and Culture of a Pervasive Belief” in The Bible and The Politics of Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Norman K. Gottwald on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday, p. 148 [cited under New Testament: The Evil Eye and John H. Elliot]). This belief has been referred to by many names: ayin ha-ra (Hebrew), baskaino (and related terms, Greek), invidia or fascinus (Latin), ‘ayn (Arabic), mal occhio (Italian), mal de ojo (Spanish), böser Blick (German), and so forth. However, it is commonly referred to in English as the “evil eye.” The belief is typically connected to envy and often emerges in cultures that believe in an extramission theory of vision (see Theoretical Explanations), that is, one in which the eye is understood as an active organ, capable of emitting light from it. Women and outsiders, in particular, are thought capable of casting the evil eye, and those who are beautiful, healthy, wealthy, or young are especially vulnerable to it. Yet, it is believed that individuals can protect themselves against the negative influences of the evil eye by wearing amulets and reciting certain incantations (see, e.g., Gideon Bohak‘s Ancient Jewish Magic: A History [cited under Ancient Near East], E. A. Wallis Budge‘s “The Evil Eye” in Amulets and Superstitions [cited under General Overviews: Classic Overviews], Christopher A. Faraone‘s “The Amuletic Design of the Mithraic Bull-Wounding Scene" and James Russell‘s “The Archaeological Context of Magic in the Early Byzantine Period” [both cited under Greece and Rome: Artistic and Archaeological Representations], James N. Ford‘s “Ninety-Nine by the Evil Eye and One from Natural Causes: KTU2 1.96 in its Near Eastern Context" [cited under Ancient Near East]. The scholarly study of the evil eye is vast. Siegried Seligmann‘s Die Zauberkraft des Auges und das Berufen: Ein Kapital aus der Geschichte des Aberglaubens, a classic survey (cited under General Overviews: Classic Overviews), lists more than 2,100 scholarly treatments, and, today, more than three thousand separate examinations of the phenomenon are found around the world. This article thus provides a selective list of relevant scholarship on the evil eye belief in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the New Testament, Rabbinic Literature, and Early Christian Literature. Views from the Ancient Near East and Greece and Rome on the evil eye are included as background for the belief in biblical communities, as is a survey of scholarly explanations (Theoretical Explanations) for the belief around the world. Since a growing number of scholars are interested in the relationship among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, scholarship on the evil eye belief in Islam is also included. The relevance of the belief for the history of Biblical Reception is also noted.

Introductory Works

The following works provide brief introductions to the evil eye belief in Judaism (Noy 2007), Christianity (Orr 1960), Islam (Marçais 1986), and religion more generally (Meslin 2005). Each would be appropriate introductions for undergraduate students. Frobes-Cross and Dundes 2012 asks and answers common questions people have about the evil eye.

  • Frobes-Cross, Nicholas, and Alan Dundes. “The Evil Eye: An Interview with Alan Dundes.” Cabinet Magazine 5 (Winter 2012).

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    A published phone interview with noted scholar of folklore Alan Dundes conducted by an undergraduate student at Bard College. Answers eight basic questions nonspecialists might have about the evil eye belief.

  • Marçais, Ph. “‘Ayn.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 1. Edited by H. A. R. Gibb, B. Lewis, J. Schacht, et al., 786. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1986.

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    A brief encyclopedia article on the evil eye belief in Islamic literature. New edition.

  • Meslin, Michel. “Eye.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 5. 2d ed. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 2940–2943. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

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    A brief introduction to the evil eye in religious contexts. The brief section on the evil eye (pp. 2941–2942) is part of a larger article on the religious symbolism of the eye more broadly.

  • Noy, Dov. “Evil Eye.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 6. 2d ed. Edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 584–585. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2007.

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    A brief encyclopedia article on Jewish beliefs about the evil eye and the methods used to protect against.

  • Orr, James, ed. “Evil Eye.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wilmington, DE: Associated Publishers, 1960.

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    Originally published 1915. A brief introduction to the evil eye in the New Testament.

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